If you run a hotel in this country, there are a few groups that make you go gulp when they check in. The American Litigants Union. The National Kleptomaniacs Society. 60 Minutes.
But those are the American Poets Society compared to the NBA's All-Star weekend crew.
This year it descended upon the Westin in Denver. You talk about pressure. If a sinkhole had opened under the Westin last weekend, every great basketball player--and most of the league's owners--would've sunk with it.
Of the 430 rooms in the hotel, 420 were allotted to the NBA. If a jock, rapper or movie star was anybody, he wanted to crib at the epicenter of the madness, the Taj B-Ball, the fountain from which all cool springs.
Hell, Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets checked in, and he lives down the street.
No wonder 10 of those rooms went to NBA security. "My God, security is tight," grumbled Mike, a bartender at The Palm, the in-house restaurant, as he poured another $120 shot of Remy Martin Louis XIII. "It wasn't half this tight when Dick Cheney stayed here. I got stopped trying to leave!"
The Westin was ready for anything. The restaurant loaded up on 10-pound lobsters, and the hotel created 26 identical suites so that no All-Star would have a better room than any other. The hotel's general manager, Dani Stern, rolled a bed into his office. "I won't be going home," he said.
Of course, anything happened anyway.
Shaq to cop in lobby: "Any idea where I can go shoot?"
Cop: "Well, I'm sure they could take you to the Pepsi Center."
Shaq: "Not basketballs, guns!"
It's not every day a hotel is full of some of the wealthiest people in the world. On Friday the hotel's director of security was eating a ham sandwich in his office, when he noticed an odd sight outside his window--Kevin Garnett trying on fur coats off a rack in the hallway. Turns out the furs were for P. Diddy's Diamonds and Fur party the next night.
Those furs were free loaners to players, but in the women's bathroom at The Palm, the price was higher. "A woman was in there selling her fur!" a waitress said on Saturday. "She was negotiating with a woman for it. I think she needs some money to keep up appearances."
It was a hellish week to be a Westin concierge. "The players all want limos," said Jessica, "but they want to know the year and the model. And they refuse to ride in a Town Car. They would rather not go than be seen climbing into the back of a Town Car."
Which made you feel a little sorry for the Charlotte Bobcats' Emeka Okafor, who was seen getting into a cab. Rookie.
The concierges couldn't do anything for poor Manute Bol, the 7'7" former NBA center, who wandered around the lobby all afternoon on Saturday and most of Sunday waiting for his lost luggage. "It's not like he can go down to Nordstrom and buy off the rack," said a front-desk clerk.
Outside the Westin there were hordes of people watching every move the stars made. All day, all night, hundreds watched from behind barricades, craning their necks to see which monster celeb would walk by next, even if they weren't sure who it was they were ogling. "Hey," one middle-aged man at the barricade was heard to say, "is that Sixty Cent?"
In prime position most of the three days were four people Stern knew well. "eBay hawks," he said. "They're here for every team, every sport, every season. They're very polite, but whatever gets signed, they sell on eBay. It's how they make their living."
But one of the men is with a toddler!
"Bait," Stern said.
Money oozed from under the hotel doors. "It's like a diamond contest in here," said Dan Foster, general manager of The Palm. The winner? "Paul Pierce [of the Celtics]. He stole the show."
One star couple came in with their four-year-old boy, who wore a huge diamond-encrusted medallion around his neck. "If that's real," a waitress was overheard telling a colleague, "I'm throwing up." Five minutes later she came back. "It is."
Tiny old woman in lobby to the 7'1" Shaq: "Are you a basketball player?"
Shaq: "No, I'm a rapper."
All in all, there wasn't much restin' at the Westin. There were parties all over town every night, most of which ended at 2 a.m., only to be followed by after-parties that went until seven. At 3:30 one morning, a player and a rapper were each drinking straight from his own bottle of Cristal on the Westin front drive. Not bad at $800 a bottle.
After the East All-Stars beat the West 125--115 on Sunday, the 20-year-old Anthony headed home. "I'll probably get some rest tonight," he said.
And they call this the All-Star "break"? ‚ñ†
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Money oozed from under the doors of the All-Stars' hotel. "It's like a diamond contest in here," said one employee. The winner? "Paul Pierce."
PETER READ MILLER